When Pete Murphy was 12 in the 1970s he could often be found plying the waters of Port Jefferson, exploring and fishing in a 12-foot aluminum boat with a small outboard motor. Today, he’s Captain Pete Murphy, and for the past 20 years he’s been running Sea Tow Port Jefferson, helping old and new friends stay safe on the popular recreational waters of Long Island Sound.

Now 50, Murphy is perfectly at home on these busy waters. After graduating from Ward Melville High School in 1983, he joined the Navy and served as a Boatswain’s mate until he was honorably discharged in 1987. Boatswain’s mates are masters of seamanship, and the training helped Murphy in his career.

“In the Navy I learned how to drive a small boat, how to maintain boats and also did a lot of maintenance on the ships,” Murphy said. “When I got out I worked for three companies on Long Island. We built docks and one company had a small barge with a crane on it that we pushed around from job to job.”

In 1996 Murphy discovered the opportunity that changed his life: He purchased the Sea Tow Port Jefferson franchise from the original owner, Capt. Joe Frohnhoefer, who founded the franchise in 1991. “Sea Tow was right in the realm of what I was doing, and it was on the harbor where I grew up boating,” he said. “It just made sense. I took over the franchise on July 3, 1996, the day before the July Fourth weekend.”

Murphy started with two boats, no staff and only 36 members in his Area of Responsibility, which extends along 25 miles of coastline from the Nissequogue River in Kings Park east to Wading River, and halfway across Long Island Sound. He also serves Smithtown Bay, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai. “For the first two years I did everything by myself,” Murphy said. “It was slow growth. Now we have thousands of members, and I have expanded the fleet and the staff.” These days his fleet includes three boats, all in the water in Port Jefferson: a 26-foot Boston Whaler with twin outboards and two 24-foot inboard-powered Privateers. Murphy has one full-time captain and two-part-time captains.

He has started another business, Murphy’s Marine Service, to install the temporary moorings for Port Jefferson each spring and take them out in the fall. In addition, he runs a taxi service for boat owners to their boats on the mooring balls. “It definitely keeps me busy,” said Murphy, who has a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard master’s license, which he recertifies every five years through on-going training. “The mooring and the taxi service are a perfect complement to Sea Tow.”

Murphy and his wife of 15 years, Melissa, have five children: Abigail, 16; Matthew, 14; Peter, 12; Lilah Grace, 7; and Liam, 5. “We have a 24-foot Four Winns, and we love to go boating,” he said. “The fishing is great in the Sound for fluke, bluefish and striped bass. It’s a great family activity to get out in the boat, and the kids love it.” The Long Island Sound has a 7-foot tidal swing, but Murphy’s Area of Responsibility is relatively clear of rocky areas or sand bars.

“When I first started the business I had to charge most people for what I did, because they weren’t members,” Murphy said. “Back then people saw me at boat shows and didn’t like me much. Twenty years later they love Sea Tow. It’s a big change in perception, and a credit to Sea Tow and the value it brings to people.”